Worship Schedule for December 24, 2023

As a reminder, our worship schedule will be different on Sunday, Dec. 24.  We will have breakfast from 9:30-10:30 AM in the Fellowship Hall and will then have a time of informal worship around tables that will include some scripture, music and carol singing.

Our formal Candle-Light Christmas Eve service will begin with a prelude at 4:30 PM and worship beginning at 5:00 PM.  I will hope to see you at one or the other of the Christmas Eve experiences and will be praying that the familiar words of the story of the arrival of Emmanuel (God with Us) will speak to you in new way this year.  This is the season of promise—there is always more to be experienced.

The morning gathering will not be live-streamed but the Candle-Light Christmas Eve Service will.

Advent Devotion: Simple Gifts

Written by Ginny & Fred Karnas Narrated by Hogan Brock (2019)

ScriptureDo not store up for yourselves treasures on earth where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Mathew 6:19-21)

MeditationIt was a few days before Christmas when I saw the homeless man walking through the alley behind our office building.  I had seen him many times before as he wandered through the neighborhood looking for cans to sell.  He always came carrying a large garbage bag or pushing a shopping cart and went about his chore in a quiet and business-like manner, seldom staying anywhere long enough to say hello, or be caught by those who didn’t appreciate his entrepreneurial spirit.

On this particular day when I saw him in our back parking lot, I remembered that I had a large bag full of cans in the trunk of our car that I had been meaning to drop off at a recycling center for weeks.  I immediately determined that I could eliminate my task and perhaps provide the homeless “canner” with a little more capital than usual.

He was a bit wary when I popped out the back door of the office and got his attention, but I assured him I meant no harm.  I merely wanted to offer him something I had in the trunk.  

He stood by me silently with no real expression as I opened the trunk and pulled out what for him was an entire day’s haul of cans.  

As I handed him the bag, he realized what I was giving him and his expression changed dramatically.  A smile came across his face.  He looked me in the eye and in a loud voice he exclaimed, “Well, Merry Christmas!!”

Christmas is about joy.  Too often, however that joy is complicated by unreasonable expectations, endless advertisements, and the crush of holiday events, and, as a result, opportunities for small acts of love are missed.  But in that brief moment, the homeless man taught me that the joy of Christmas can come in the simplest of ways when we seek to cross the barriers that divide us one from another. 

PrayerLord, help us cut through the drudgery of shopping and the dint of expectations to embrace the simple gift of a Baby in a manger and Your eternal gift of love to each of us.

Introduction to Ginny and Fred’s Devotion Series

Advent Devotion: The Sacred Romance

Written by Fred & Ginny Karnas Narrated by Sterling Severns

Scripture:  For God loved the world so much that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him may not die but have eternal life.  (John 3:16)

MeditationIn their book, The Sacred Romance, Brent Curtis and John Eldredge discuss the various metaphors used in scripture to describe God’s relationship to us.  God is the Potter, we are the clay (Isaiah 64:8).  Christ is the Shepherd, we are the sheep (Psalm 23).  We were God’s enemies, but through Christ we are now His friends (Romans 5:10).  Christ is the first among many brothers and sisters (Romans 8:29). God is the Father, we are His children.  But, they write, the most amazing metaphor is that of God as the Lover and us as the beloved (Hosea’s undying love for his unfaithful wife, Gomer; Christ as the Bridegroom, the church as His bride).

But the authors point out in a quote by the Christian author, Philip Yancey:

Power can do everything but the most important thing:  it cannot control Love… In a concentration camp, the guards possess almost unlimited power.  By applying force, they can make you renounce your God, curse your family, work without pay, . . . kill and then bury your closest friend or even your own mother.  All this is within their power.  Only one thing is not:  they cannot force you to love them.

Curtis and Eldredge explain that the reason God gave us freedom to choose is that He wanted lovers, not puppets.  God is inviting us to become involved in a romance with Him!

The great philosopher, Kierkegaard, uses the analogy of a king who dearly loves a lowly maiden, but knows that while he can force her to become his bride, he cannot force her to love him.  To win her heart, he gives up his throne and goes to her dressed as a beggar.  God in Christ has done just that to win our love!

Again, Philip Yancey writes, “The deepest longings we feel on earth, as parents, as lovers, are mere flickers of the hungering desire God feels for us.  It is a desire that cost Him the Incarnation and the Crucifixion.”  This Christmas, how will you and I respond to this sacred Romance?  And what will it cost us?

Sung prayer:  What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul,

                        What wondrous love is this, O my soul!

                What wondrous love is this that caused the Lord of bliss

                To bear the dreadful curse for my soul, for my soul,

                        To bear the dreadful curse for my soul.   (USA folk hymn) 

Introduction to Ginny and Fred’s Devotion Series  

Advent Devotion: Seeing Each other With New Eyes

Written by Fred & Ginny Karnas Narrated by Mamie Ruth (Hitchens) Blanton

Seeing Each Other With New Eyes

Scripture:  What we see now is like a dim image in a mirror; then we shall see face-to- face.  (I Corinthians 13: 12).

For where two or three come together in My name, I am there with them. (Matthew 18:20)

 Now go to the main streets and invite to the feast as many people as you find. (Matthew 22:9)

MeditationJames was admitted to the Christ House medical recovery facility looking very disheveled.  His hair was very long, he had a frightened look in his eyes, and his hands shook from many years of alcohol abuse.

We got him a shower, a haircut, a bed, and medicine to pull the poisons from his brain that his damaged liver could no longer neutralize.  We also got him help for his drinking problem.  Slowly the tremor in his hands improved.  Slowly, very slowly, the look of fear in James’ eyes became an off-and-on occurrence instead of constant.  James began to trust our care for him.  He had finally found some peace, and he began to open up and talk.  We had not gotten to know him for who he was until he had had time to know and trust us.

Our Fredericksburg Baptist Church pastor, Larry Haun, shared a similar story with me regarding the new outreach ministry of Community Meals which the church had begun.  Larry said that people who used to approach him on the street for food or money are now sitting and talking with him over the shared meal as you and I would.  Others have reported the same experience to Larry.  People are beginning to know each other as individual persons, instead of “homeless” or “church people.”  They are participating in God’s call to be peacemakers.

There’s a Thursday night tradition at Christ House called Table Fellowship when Christ House patients, former patients who live in a nearby companion-ministry house called Kairos (“God’s time” or “God’s timing”), and friends and staff share a meal, singing, a devotional, the Lord’s Supper, and fellowship.  Fredericksburg Baptist Church’s Community Meal was very similar – a place where barriers between people are getting torn down and Christ is invited to be the Guest of honor.

Prayer:  Thank You, holy and gracious God, for empowering us to become peacemakers by tearing down old walls and building new bridges.  Thank You for blessing us with Your awesome presence when we gather in Your name.  Keep our eyes fixed on You to give us strength for the long haul.  Amen.

Introduction to Ginny and Fred’s Devotion Series

Advent Devotion: What is Peace?

written by Fred & Ginny Karnas narrated by Penny Jenkins

What is Peace?

ScriptureOur God is merciful and tender.  He will cause the bright dawn of salvation to rise on us and to shine from heaven on all those who live in the dark shadow of death, to guide our steps into the path of peace.”  (Luke 1:78-79)

MeditationAs Christmas approaches, songs of peace often emanate from our lips.  But do we know what peace looks like?  

When we initially wrote these devotionals, there was much talk of war in Iraq, even as our nation continued to struggle with the problems in Afghanistan, Palestinian areas, and Israel.  Today, 17 years later, we still are dealing with the remnants of those wars.  And, in other corners of the world, peoples and countries spend their precious resources to take the lives and livelihoods of their neighbors.   Despite the current state of the world, the Christmas journey calls us toward peace.   But what does peace look like in a world so torn apart?  Isaiah (65:18-24 CEV) offers this alternative for our world:

Celebrate and be glad forever!

I am creating a Jerusalem full of happy people;

I will celebrate with Jerusalem and all of its people;

There will be no more crying or sorrow in that city.

No child will die in infancy;

Everyone will live to a ripe old age.

Anyone a hundred years old will be considered young, and to die younger than that will be considered a curse.

My people will live in the houses they build;

They will enjoy grapes from their own vineyards.

No one will take away their homes or vineyards.

My chosen people will live to be as old as trees,

 and they will enjoy what they have earned.

Their work won’t be wasted, 

and their children won’t die of dreadful diseases.

I will bless their children and their grand children. 

I will answer their prayers before they finish praying.

It is a long way from the place described by Isaiah to where our world finds itself today, and yet it is not an impossible journey from here.  To paraphrase a former National Security Administration official, we can bomb Afghanistan and chase al Qaeda around the world but we will fail if we do not see that the best deterrent against terrorism is hope.  In a world where hundreds of millions of people go to bed hungry each night, and where hate still rules many nations, it is not a hard leap to understand why some misguided young men and women are willing to sacrifice their lives for any cause which even remotely promises a better life for their families.  They are literally hopeless.  In their minds they have nothing to lose.

The promise of Isaiah can only be achieved when we really understand that the scriptures call us to do justice.  The gift of Christmas is the freedom in God’s love to seek this goal knowing that He is there to help us over the hard spots.   We are called to give hope to the hopeless even in today’s very difficult world. Clarence Jordan offers some guiding words for those who commit to taking on the daunting task of working for peace in a troubled world:

It seems to me that He (Jesus) said something like this: “Fellows, this is it. You think you’ve already been through a lot. You’re just getting started.  As you walked up these steps and came into My kingdom, I made it clear to you that you were there by making an all-out commitment. I charge you now to be faithful, cost what it may. But don’t let them scare you or bully you or make you back down.  Rejoice that you’ve been counted worthy to be on our side.  You’re in a great company of prophets whose glorious past stretches back to the beginning of time and whose future has no end. So, go to it. I’m with you.

Prayer:   Lord, continually remind us of the song of peace sung by the angels that Christmas so long ago, and give us the strength to be Christ’s peacemakers in the world today.

Advent Devotion: My Grace is Sufficient

written by Fred and Ginny Karnas narrated by Woody Jenkins

Scripture:  … I was given a painful physical ailment . . . Three times I prayed to the Lord about this and asked Him to take it away.  But His answer was “My grace is all you need, for my power is strongest when You are weak.”  (II Corinthians 12: 7b, 8, & 9a).

And God’s peace, which is far beyond human understanding, will keep your hearts and minds safe in union with Christ Jesus.  (Philippians 3:7)

MeditationI have known many dear friends who live or lived with a “thorn in the flesh” which God, for reasons known only to Himself, chose not to remove, giving each of these dear people grace and peace instead.

Victor suffers from severe insulin-dependent diabetes and painful spasms in his legs.  He prayed that God would save his right leg from amputation, but instead God graced him with a wonderful attitude; a determination that gave him the ability  to walk with a prosthesis; a terrific smile and sense of humor; and a peace and a gratitude to God for life that caused staff members and other patients at Christ House to try harder, too.

Raul, another patient, was not delivered of the “thorn” of terminal cancer, but God gave him the gracious gifts of reunion with estranged family members; renewal of his faith; the assurance of forgiveness of his past sins; and a place he came to know as home where he peacefully departed this world with caring medical staff and family at his side.

Carolyn was not to win her battle with cancer, either, but that did not stop her from spreading her love.  Despite her terminal cancer and her bipolar disorder, God’s grace, peace, and love shone through her.  She would always be the first person at Christ House to buy and circulate a greeting card for anyone’s birthday.  And she helped out in the dining hall there until a day or two before she died.  She departed this world in peace and victory.

Our friends Kathy from Richmond and Becky from Phoenix, and Ethel from Fredericksburg all fought their terminal illnesses so valiantly.  Each prayed earnestly for healing.  Friends and family and sometimes just acquaintances and total strangers prayed fervently for healing, but in the end God took them to their heavenly home.  And yet, in their relatively short lives God’s very-evident grace and peace produced so much love in action.  Kathy, Becky, and Ethel were “doers of the Word, not hearers only.”  All three were doing for others nearly up to the day they passed into an everlasting life of joy and peace.

Before Ethel departed, it was my great privilege on several occasions to sit at her bedside and sing softly to her.  When she could she would join me, singing in a faint voice.  One hymn we sang was “For All the Saints [Who From Their Labors Rest],” with words by William W. How set to the beautiful music by Ralph Vaughan Williams.  Verses 2, 5, and 6 go like this:

Thou wast their rock, their fortress, and their might;

Thou, Lord, their captain in the well-fought fight;

Thou, in the darkness drear, their one true light.

Alleluia, Alleluia!

And when the strife is fierce, the warfare long,

Steals on the ear the distant triumph song,

And hearts are brave again, and arms are strong.

Alleluia, Alleluia!

From earth’s wide bounds, from ocean’s farthest coast,

Through gates of pearl streams in the countless host,

Singing to Father, Son, and Holy Ghost:

Alleluia, Alleluia!

Prayer:  Lord God, often we do not understand Your ways.  Nevertheless, help us to be ever-growing in Your grace this Christmas season and all our lives, for You in Your peace-giving grace are sufficient for all our needs.  Amen.

Introduction to Ginny and Fred’s Devotion Series

Advent Devotion: For us…

Written by Ginny Karnas Narrated by Cole Severns

Scripture:  Peace is what I leave with you; it is My own peace that I give you.  I do not give it as the world does.  Do not be worried and upset; do not be afraid.”  (John 14:27)

MeditationWhen we moved to Fredericksburg in 1991 our two daughters were in the middle of fourth and seventh grades.  After a few days in their new school it became very apparent that our younger daughter was having great difficulty adjusting.  There were many tears and a real dread of going to school.  Despite the fact that my husband and I had prayed about and felt a definite calling to move to Virginia, I began to be upset regarding our daughter’s distress and to feel somehow that God was asking us to sacrifice our children’s well-being for this calling we had answered.  Each morning I practically begged God to give each of them a good day at school.

Then came my peace.  I had a devotional book that contained a passage about Abraham who, of course, was asked by God to take his precious and only son, Isaac, up the mountain to be offered up as a sacrifice to God.  The author of the passage, Carlo Carretto, writes that:

God,  wrapt round the colossal figure of this patriarch alone in the desert, . . . wants to communicate with the depths of Abraham’s being and tear him from himself and his involvement with his own  problems, which are like self-centered possessions; He wants to make this creature of His “more His,”  this man who is destined not for the tents of earth, but for those of Heaven.  So God asks of him an absurd trial, as love is absurd for anyone who does not live it, but as true and relentless as love for anyone who possesses it. . ..  What a drama was in the poor heart of that man!  God had asked the supreme sacrifice. If Abraham had had to turn the knife on himself it would have been easier!

My peace came as I believed that through this passage God was saying to me, “Remember, Ginny, that Abraham did not end up having to sacrifice his son, and neither will you be sacrificing your daughters.  Everything is going to be okay.”  And peace came, too, as the passage reminded me of God’s awesome presence always, but especially when He is asking us to do something that’s really hard for us to do.  There are times when God does ask us to complete other kinds of sacrifices, but this time God wanted Abraham’s trust, not his son.  That assurance gave me great peace.

The peace continued to flow as our Pastor Emeritus, Howard Cates, paid a visit with a deck of Uno cards and his loving support.  Soon he had our daughter talking and laughing again as she played Uno with a new friend she could trust in this new place.  And then Howard’s wife, Betty Jo, had us all over for dinner, and we played Uno again!  God had wrapped His arms around all of us through Howard and Betty Jo.  And God continued to show His presence throughout our future years in Fredericksburg, giving both our girls a true home, and blessing us in countless ways.

Abraham was spared the sacrifice of his son, but God willingly gave the ultimate sacrifice of His precious and only Son for us.  What will we give Him in return this Christmas?

What can I give Him, poor as I am?

If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;

If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;

Yet what I can I give Him:  give my heart.      (Christina G. Rossetti)

PrayerHoly God and Giver of peace and salvation, thank You for the very intimate ways You care for us and give us Your peace.  May we in turn be instruments of Your peace, spreading it to others as we journey onward.  Amen.

Advent Devotion: Christmas and Grief

Written by Fred & Ginny Karnas

Scripture reading:   A sound is heard in Ramah, the sound of bitter weeping.  Rachel is crying for her children; she refuses to be comforted, for they are dead. (Matthew 2:18)

MeditationThis prophecy of Jeremiah is repeated in Matthew as part of the Christmas story. We often quickly slip over the story of Herod’s effort to protect his kingdom from the new Messiah by calling for the killing of all Hebrew boys, “who had lived in or near Bethlehem and were under two.”   It is a hard story which seems to take us on an unwelcome path of sadness and fear in this season of joy. But the journey to Christmas is like all journeys; there are likely to be tears and hard places along the way.   

During the 1990s I spent a significant period of time working with people living with HIV/AIDS.  Even though I had spent a good portion of my working life until that time working among the poor and homeless, I had little experience in the world of those suffering from this awful disease.  I listened as a mother told the story of nursing her dying son in his final days, his frail body ravaged by the sores and disease that had consumed it.  I watched a friend waste away before my eyes as the disease, long in remission, cruelly reemerged and recaptured his body.  And I sat in stunned silence after hearing the news of another friend’s death from AIDS, knowing that the fear of revealing he was gay had forced him into a lonely and painful death.  He had not shared his diagnosis even with us, his friends.

I heard tragic story after story of lost loves and friends, of funeral after funeral, until even the healthy were so exhausted they no longer wanted to go on.  We seldom stop to think about the inconsolable grief some segments of our society have endured, and the strength they have shown in the face of this awful scourge.  And we seldom contemplate what this nation has lost in the young men and women that AIDS has taken from us. I grieve for the teachers, doctors, artists, dancers, athletes, engineers, and musicians whose life works would have made this world a better place.  I grieve for their partners and friends who have been left alone.  And I grieve that so many of us did not reach out to them.

Yes, the journey to Christmas requires us to share the grief that only God can relieve, and the hope of Christmas calls us to reach out to those who suffer and seek comfort and peace.  

Prayer:  Lord, give us the strength to journey with those who are marginalized, and those who struggle with sickness and the ever-present specter of death.  Help us to know what to do, what to say, and how to share your gift of peace. Amen

Advent Devotional: God is With Us

written by Ginny & Fred Karnas narrated by Anita McCarty

Scripture: “A virgin will become pregnant and have a Son, and He will be called Immanuel” (which means, “God is with us”).  (Matthew 1:23).                

For God has said, “I will never leave you; I will never abandon you.”  (Hebrews 13: 5b)

MeditationA pilot friend of mine told me a story of how he was flying in a storm somewhere over Florida.  The storm had gotten so bad that he had lost his bearings—he didn’t even know where he was.  But his radio contact with the tower stayed strong, and his air traffic controller did know where he was and was able to guide him safely to an airport.

Today the storms of this world threaten to destroy our inner peace and undo us.  The anxiety index has been off the chart with daily political upheaval, the existential threat of climate change, a deadly opioid epidemic, and endless war after endless war.  So how can we experience inner peace in the midst of all of this, even as Christians?  We must focus on the fact that, even when we are lost in the storms of life, God’s radar is still working. God knows where we are at all times and in every situation. God knows how His plans for us will be implemented.  Immanuel has come. God is with us and will never abandon us.  

When I wrote this devotion in 2002, Fredericksburg and northern Virginia were consumed by the terror of sniper indiscriminately shooting unsuspecting and innocent people.  I believe that part of God’s plan during the sniper crisis was that of calling millions of people, many who habitually pray and many who seldom or never do, to pray for the families of the victims, for those who were wounded and needed healing, and for the apprehension of the killers.  I believe God used the power of that prayer to put it into the mind of the witness or witnesses in Washington state to make the unlikely connection of a possible link to the shootings.  I believe that prayer power aided the truck driver at a Maryland rest stop to spot the snipers’ vehicle and call it in.  In fact, a small article in The Arizona Republic reported that the same truck driver had met just a week earlier with 50 of his fellow truck drivers to pray that the snipers would be caught.

The day after September 11th I sat gazing out the window of our Arlington, Virginia apartment which overlooked the Pentagon from which smoke continued to float into the air.  As I prayed, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done,” I wept to think how far it seemed our world was from God’s kingdom coming or God’s will being done.  Then I remembered the words to the familiar hymn by Martin Luther which many thousands of people were probably pondering for comfort:

A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing;

Our helper He, amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing:

For still our ancient foe doth seek to work us woe;

His craft and power are great,

And, armed with cruel hate, on earth is not his equal.     (verse 1)

And tho’ this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us,

We will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us:

The Prince of Darkness grim—we tremble not for him; his rage we can endure,

For lo, his doom is sure; one little word shall fell him (verse 3)

Prayer:  God of all goodness and all might, grant us peace in the knowledge that You are in control, even when much of life seems to be in chaos.  Amen.  

Advent Devotion: The Journey to Wholeness

written by Ginny & Fred Karnas narrated by Fred Karnas

Scripture:  He helps us in all our troubles, so that we are able to help others who have all kinds of troubles, using the same help that we ourselves have received from God.  Just as we have shared in Christ’s many sufferings, so also through Christ we share in God’s great help. (2 Corinthians: 4-5)

MeditationMy father was an alcoholic. I have never written those words before.   It has taken me over 50 years to be able to acknowledge that hurt and shame in my life.  My father was a caring man with one of the best senses of humor on the earth, but he wrestled with demons for nearly all his 84 years.  To see him at work as a middle-class government bureaucrat one would not have sensed the brokenness in his life, or for that matter the brokenness his drinking brought to his family.  Brokenness is not often used to describe those of us in the middle class.  No, we reserve it for the poor, the sick, and the homeless.  But the journey to Christmas is about God’s reaching out to heal our brokenness.  The gift of Christmas is Jesus’ promise of healing, peace, and hope for all his children, no matter their status in life. 

Christ House is a medical recovery facility for homeless men and women in inner-city Washington, DC.  On the first floor of the facility is an all-purpose room used for meetings, dining, and worship.  On this day, the Easter Sunday worship was just beginning.  Crowded into the room was an array of God’s children…rich suburbanites and poor inner-city residents, old black patients and young white volunteers, healthy neighbors and sick guests.

As the service began, Pastor Allen Goetcheus asked the community’s spiritual counselor, Sr. Marcella to say a few words.  Her words were simple but direct, and there wasn’t a soul in the room who did not instantly understand how profound they were.  Looking out on the congregation of men and women battered but unbeaten by life, she smiled and said. “If you don’t believe in resurrection you haven’t spent any time at Christ House.”

The gift of Christ House is that resurrections, big and small, are a daily occurrence.  For some it is one day of sobriety after decades of alcohol use. For another it is the report that the HIV once consuming his body has been slowed to a stop, and for others it is the once unimaginable news that he is well and there is a home to move into.  

Through the brokenness of those with whom we worshipped at Christ House, those of us whose lives had our own trials and tribulations were allowed to confront the dark and hurting places in our own lives and to share resurrections with people who, on the surface at least, were very different from us.  It is impossible to worship with the poor and sick at Christ House and say you cannot deal with your struggles.

The journey to Christmas is the journey to hope and wholeness and, ultimately, peace.  

“This is the blood of Jesus,” Leland whispers to me as he hands me the communion cup.  In that moment the gift of Christmas is mine, for no distance separates the middle-aged, middle-class white man from a tiny Canadian border town and the formerly homeless black man with AIDS.  We have each seen our brokenness, and through the gift of Christmas Leland and I share God’s love and healing. 

PrayerLord, help us to reach out to those whose trials and victories teach us about the healing gift of Your love.  Amen.